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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

MEN  OP MATHEMATICS
blunt simplicity, good nature, and racy humour,
characterized that fast-vanishing species at its best. Museum
specimens, aged in the wood, could be found behind the bar in
any San Francisco German beer garden a generation ago.
Although Ernst Eduard Kurnmer (29 January 1810-14 Slav
1893) was born only five years before the deflation of Napoleon,
the glorious Emperor of the French played an important if
unwitting part in Kummer's life. The son of a physician of
Sorau (then in the principality of Brandenburg), Germany,
Rummer at the age of three lost his father: the lousy remnant
of Napoleon's Grand Army, filtering back through Germany to
France, brought with it the characteristically Russian gift of
typhus, which it shared freely with the well-washed Germans,
The overworked physician caught the disease, died of it, and
left Ernst and an elder brother to the care of his widow. Young
Rummer grew up in cramping poverty, but his struggling
mother contrived somehow or another to see her sons through
the local Gymnasium. The arrogance and exactions of the
Napoleonic French, no less than the memory of his father,
which the mother kept alive, made young Kummer an ex-
tremely practical patriot, and it was with real gusto that he
devoted much of his superb scientific talent in later life to
training German army officers in ballistics at the war college of
Berlin. Many of his students gave good accounts of themselves
in the Franco-Prussian War.
At the age of eighteen (in 1828) Kummer was sent by his
mother to the University of Halle to study theology and other-
wise fit himself for a career in the church. Owing to his poverty
Kummer did not reside at the University, but tramped hack
and forth every day from Sorau to Halle with his food and
books in a knapsack on his back. Regarding his theological
studies Kummer makes the interesting observation that it is
more or less a matter of accident or environment whether a
mind with a gift for abstract speculation turns to philosophy or
to mathematics. The accident in his own case was the presence
at Halle of Heinrich Ferdinand Scherk (1798-1885) as professor
of mathematics. Scherk was rather old-fashioned, but he bad
an enthusiasm for algebra and the theory of numbers which he
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